NASA announces new astronaut class

NASA announces new astronaut class

NASA on Friday announced the crews of the first flights from USA soil since the space shuttle retired in 2011, an elite group of astronauts that the agency hopes will help open a new era of space travel.

Their voyages are scheduled to begin next year, and they would be the first American astronauts to launch from USA soil since 2011.

"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX", Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a statement.

After a almost decadelong hiatus, NASA plans to once again start launching piloted spacecraft from American soil, this time aboard two commercially developed vehicles, beginning in early to mid-2019.

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NASA officials didn't state why a three-person crew would be flying on the Starliner test flight, but the agency announced an agreement earlier this year with Boeing to study turning that crewed test flight into an operational mission in the event of further commercial crew delays.

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday, standing in front of a giant American flag at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The manned test flight from Boeing will feature one NASA astronaut and one Boeing employee, most likely former astronaut Chris Ferguson. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. Nicole Aunapu Mann will be making her first flight; she completed her astronaut training in 2015. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks. Both vehicles were developed in cooperation with Nasa to deliver crew members to and from the orbiting laboratory. NASA also said SpaceX will launch an uncrewed flight test in November, with Boeing not expected to do that until late in 2018 or in the early part of next year. It now looks like SpaceX will be the first to launch humans on its crew Dragon spacecraft, set for April 2019. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company. Both SpaceX and Boeing were supposed to clear this hurdle a year ago, but Boeing is now likely to win certification in January, with SpaceX following it the next month. They're both the result of NASA's Commercial Crew Program: a almost 10-year-long, $8-billion effort to maintain access to orbit for U.S. astronauts. I've watched people and teams come together these last few years, and now we're getting close to space flight.

President Donald Trump hailed the announcement on Twitter: "We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them". The launch window for the mission opens at 3:48 a.m EDT on August 11, 2018. "So, our investment in American space exploration always pays back ... multiple folds in terms of the human condition", he added.

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